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chicken down hugel up

 
gardener
Posts: 1329
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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cattle chicken bee homestead
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Lost 2 chickens to a predator yesterday. Probably fox. Again. Not going to free range any more chickens. Will build them a sturdy fenced in area. They are confined to their coop until then. Perhaps brief supervised outdoor stretches shortly before dark. Certain people around here always suggest killing the dogs, hawks, & foxes. However, they seem to have no interest in cleaning, cooking, & eating the predators. I think the predators belong here more than chickens. Predators weren't threatening us. It's not the predators fault. It was my fault. The first pic shows where one chicken was buried. Today I started building a 7 foot hugel on top of her for PEP/PEX. She loved being in the garden so now she is part of it. I'm calling it a hugelhump. Someday all the materials may be moved to a more ambitious hugel project. That one needs more observation & serious planning because it could potentially cause a flood & destroy 2 buildings. So hugelhump it is. For now.

Thought it would be good to document step by step progress. Building it by hand with basic garden tools. I've never built a tall hugel. Over the years I've built several in ground &/or roughly two feet above ground. Hopefully this will show how almost anyone can build a tall hugel. Or possibly show how not to. Probably a little of both. Aiming for completion by mid August which is winter rye planting time here.

Today started with marking the perimeter with partially decomposed branches. Dug a small hole in each corner to mark it better. Spread a layer of more of the same type branches. Dug about 35 feet of a new swale trench. Worked that soil into the cracks between the bottom layer of branches. Added a bigger fresher log. Scraped the uppermost layer of top soil from under piles of leaves. Added that around the big log & the remainder of the branches. Then added a layer of lawn clippings & another load of soil. Added a couple of old firewood logs to continue with the bottom level. Total time about 1.5 hours not including breaks. Wanted many of those because it was hot & very humid. Tallest part of the big log is 20 inches above ground. If it doesn't rain tonight I'll water it in before proceeding.

Hugelbump is near a rather large hugelhole. About 250 sweet potatoes in there now. Ultimately destined for asparagus. Will plant other perennials on hugelbump. Might also will use it to warm a fig tree & with some luck a pomegranate tree during winter.
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Mike Barkley
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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cattle chicken bee homestead
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Added a few more logs & lawn clippings. A couple inches taller. Fuller at the base. Going to make a solid central plateau before going any higher.
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master pollinator
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I had to give up free-ranging also because of predators being predators.  Currently we are without chickens, but when I get them again they will have a nice compost run.
 
Mike Barkley
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Yes. I'm kind of considering this hugel as a constant reminder of that. Saw two wild turkeys today. Tall but skinny ones. No wonder the chickens get eaten first.

Here's some pix from the past two days. Slowly but surely getting done. The base is solid. Working on next layer now. Needs more soil packed between the top logs. Then it will level off about 3.5 feet. It will become more challenging after that. Probably going to drive some vertical poles into the ground through the lump & make a crude framework with saplings to help retain soil as it goes up higher. Logs will be smaller & more branches & twigs will be used. Also some leaves from last fall. The soil added on top will be better & will start having animal manures & worms mixed in. It's on approximately a 10 degree slope so that is a factor. So far it is within the minimum footprint. Expecting that to expand outward soon. Total time invested now is approximately 4 or 5 hours.

Having way too much fun with this!!!
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Mike Barkley
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cattle chicken bee homestead
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Two & a half more wheelbarrow loads of soil plus a few small branches & sticks. Sturdier around the base. About four feet at the peak now. About 6.5 hours total.
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Mike Barkley
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More logs. More soil. More sticks along the lower edge. Starting to build a "skeleton" of sticks & small branches to securely contain the soil on the steep sides. Taking extra care to pack the crevices full. Receiving some assistance with that from rains. Over 5 feet tall now. Still barely within the footprint. Another 2.5 hours so approximately 9 hours total.

It's starting to come alive. It spoke to me today. It asked for berries. Blueberries & strawberries. That could work!
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Mike Barkley
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Not much progress today. Did use some saplings to add more vertical sticks to the edges. Roughly 30 minutes. Going to make fairly strong wattle walls before packing in a couple more small logs & more soil. Want to make the base sturdier & then level off about 5.5 feet before going any higher. The tip of those sticks are about 6.5 feet. For reference, the corner sticks are now on the original minimum perimeter. Expecting that to ooze outward soon.
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Mike Barkley
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Mostly completed 2 sides of wattle. The main purpose is to provide support for adding small vertical sticks & branches to help catch soil. It is also acting as a size guide. Added several more logs & several more loads of soil. The base & middle level are thicker & sturdier now. Height is over 6 feet but I expect rains tonight will knock it down some. Exactly what it needs to do. About 2.5 hours for a grand total of 12 so far.

These saplings are not being cut down just for this hugel. They are being removed for better blackberry access. It was a blood sport today.
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Posts: 98
Location: NorCal
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It's hard to decide to pen your chickens, I use to let my chickens out during the day,  and put them in the coop at night. We live in between two walnut orchard's and thought it was good for the chickens to do what chickens do, and was probably beneficial to the orchard's.  I did loose a chicken once in a great while, but sadly thought it's the circle of life,  and better a short happy life than life in a cage.  Last year one night no one came home.  Not one. No feathers, nothing.  Like  they just disappeared.  It's the strangest thing.  My new flock stay in the coop. I'm going to try to fence the area next to the coop, but for now.  They stay safe.   I love your hugel it's so tall. I am building my first. I started about 18" under ground.  I'm now about 1' above ground, and I think it's going to be the most challenging part, but. I'm enjoying the process  thanks for sharing,your pictures are going to help.
 
Mike Barkley
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It was slightly discouraging to watch the hugelhump absorb 4 or 5 wheelbarrow loads of soil with no visible growth. Well worth it though. That one side is now packed good & is plantable. Still intend to add a layer of manured soil before planting. Beefed up the top a little more & added a couple more inches of dirt clods. Immediately after this picture it started raining hard. Expecting several days of that off & on. It will help settle things in & also be a good test of soil griptivity. Still within the original footprint so far. About 1.5 hours.
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Mike Barkley
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Thanks Jen. Glad it helps. That's exactly why I posted this from the beginning. It has been a very fun project & a good use of available resources. A major factor for building any hugel is to minimize airspace. Especially important to have a sturdy base on something this tall. Good luck with yours!!!
 
Mike Barkley
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Since the last update all the remaining small logs from the old wood pile have been added. Plus all the old bark. Some of the bark pieces were mostly intact so I stood them up vertically behind the wattling to act as funnels for catching soil to fill gaps. It worked great. Added 6 or 8 more loads of soil so now have 2 plantable sides. Used some saplings to make a ring & put that on top. Jabbed a bunch of sticks around the ring to make a small ledge to catch soil. Then added more soil onto the top. Very close to 7 feet at the peak now but let's call it a good solid 6.5 feet. Next step will be to wattle & fill the last 2 sides. About 2 hours. Bringing the grand total to 15.5 hours.

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Mike Barkley
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Started wattling the third side today. Added 3 more loads of soil. Widened & strengthened the top with more sticks. Didn't measure but I think it is a solid 7 feet tall now. I estimate about 8 more loads of regular soil on the sides & about 10 loads of manured soil as an outer layer will be used to complete the beast. Spent about 2 hours working on it today. So 17.5 total hours.
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steward
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Wow, this is such a vertical hugelkultur! I can’t wait to see what it looks like planted
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Do you think it will be hard to plant the side's?  I just finished my first hugel, not as tall as yours. I had one plant fall down the side.  I am learning to be creative.  I put wood chips on top to keep weeds down, and water in.  I dug down to the dirt and use sticks to line the perimeter, so it's like a tiny fence,  then fill with more soil, plant, and top with the wood chips.  So far it seems to be working. Time will tell.  I hope you post pictures when it's done, I look forward to seeing it.
 
Mike Barkley
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I will post more pictures as it is completed & probably next year too. Caught some kind of summer flu crud this past week so no recent progress. Feeling human again today so expect good progress this week. Need to finish it soon for various reasons. I don't expect problems planting the sides. It's sturdier than it looks with many ledges & pockets of soil available. The soil here has a good amount of clay so it sticks together somewhat. The wattling also helps keep it all vertical. It was rained on a few times at the 6 foot level & it held good. It held all this week at 7 feet with no rain. Only a superficial amount slid down. I have several fast sprouting types of seeds for a quick ground cover after planting the PEP/PEX crops. Also have plenty of mulches ready to go. As long as there are no torrential rain storms immediately after planting I think it will stay relatively stable.

I considered burying a small log fence along the perimeter or using big logs to make a solid above ground retainer. Decided against it because that would be a lot of extra work. The underlying ground at that spot is very hard to dig & any big logs would have to come uphill from rather far away. I think it would be absolutely necessary if it was important to maintain the minimum footprint. This one is starting to expand outward slightly but that's ok for this situation.

 
Mike Barkley
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Have you ever seen the Corn Palace? It's decorated with corn. A tourist trap but interesting to look at their artistic creativity. Today I built a soil trap from corn stalks & a few sunflower stalks. Not especially fun to look at. Nothing artistic about it. Corn wattling. Is that a thing?

Hard to put an accurate time on this part. Call it an hour for 18.5 hours total.
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Mike Barkley
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I harvested some more corn & dismantled some cucumber tipis today. Then it got freaky. I built a hugelhat with the stalks & sticks. The hugel peak did indeed reach 7 feet but I wanted a larger flat spot on top to plant some strawberries. So I wattled this hollow cube thing together then jammed it into the top. To add more soil into. The crude drawings show the basic idea. The pics show it on the ground & then placed on top. Notice the several square feet of flat. About 8 feet tall now but I suspect it will stabilize about 7.5 feet after planting. That's the goal. Another 6 or 8 loads of soil was worked into the final 2 sides. Still need to gather some meadow muffins & earthworms for an outermost layer. Almost ready to start planting though!!!

Roughly another 2.5 hours. 21 hours total so far.
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gardener & bricolagier
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This is SUCH a fun build to watch, it gets better designed and weirder looking every post! I'd like to see a before and after a good rainfall series of pic, please? I'm learning how the soil displaces in things like this, and am very curious.
Keep up the great work :D
You know how they grow strawberries in pots with little niches on the sides, think they'd do well on the sides of a hugel like this?
 
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"Corn wattling. Is that a thing?"

If it wasn't before, it is now!
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I love your new hat.  I tried to do the same thing with straw about 6" tall, but when the dirt was dumped on top it didn't keep Its shape.  Your idea is better, I may use it at a later date.  Your almost done, can't wait to see it planted.
 
Mike Barkley
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Sorry to disappoint but the beast has been rained on hard many times throughout construction. It has held together very well. There is no carnage to document ... yet. It could happen but not likely. The soil is not just tossed on loosely. It is packed into every nook & cranny rather firmly. It has many stable ledges to support it. To just pile up logs & dirt until it reached 7 feet would require probably twice the footprint. I built it carefully in stages in order to stay close to the minimum footprint. Just for grins.

The soil up to about the 5 foot mark is mostly rich topsoil with a little extra clay. Above the 5 foot mark is soil from around a huge tree that was uprooted a few years ago. Average topsoil along with an even higher clay content. It will get a couple more loads of that followed by cowpied soil. Poo glue? Planting will commence within the next few days. I'm mostly waiting on some sunchokes to arrive & the bulls to clear the cowpie harvesting area. They are lingering today.
 
Mike Barkley
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Today was a productive 30 minutes on the hugelhump right before dark. Added a couple more sunflower stalks into the wattling. Transferred a load of quality strawberry soil to the top then at great risk of life & limb planted some strawberries. I stood in the wheelbarrow for planting & pix. Won't be doing that again. The corn pic is just because it's beautiful Cherokee popcorn that was a source of stalks & husks. Tomorrow there will be more strawberries & various seeds planted. Legumes, buckwheat, clovers, radishes, collards, lettuces, mescluns, bok choys, fava beans, & some brassicas, etc. The main focus now is to get about 100 strawberries out of the kitchen garden & as many roots into the hugelhump as fast as possible. For all practical purposes it's no longer a pile of wood & soil. It's a functional part of our food supply.

Kick the tires & light the fires ... it's ON!!!
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Pearl Sutton
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I light a fire, and kick some tires,
WHOO! You have done a cool thing!!! :D I hope the strawberries are happy there
And purty Cherokee popcorn! I love the colors!!
 
Mike Barkley
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Added a couple more loads of soil & several loads of well composted cow pies today. Then spread about half a pound of crimson clover seed all over it. Strawberries are planted all around, top to bottom. Anywhere flat enough to hold a plant & a few that are hanging on by magic. Have many more to add next time. Planted all around the base with buckwheat & sunflowers for the chickens. Some of that went on the top & sides too. Soaked a bag of 16 bean soup & a couple handfuls of my own bean mix from gardens of the past 20 years. Threw that on late afternoon. Throughout the day I threw on large amounts of radishes & smaller amounts of various greens that were being planted in the kitchen garden. Collards, spinach, beets, turnips, cilantro, etc. Other veggies will follow soon. Also carefully planted some Austrian winter peas on the sides. Divided a couple comfrey & planted them along the base. Started adding some mulches. Straw, leaves, & lawn clippings. A few days of good rain is expected in about 2 days. This puppy will be fully planted by then. Except maybe the sunchokes. Where they heck are they & why aren't they here yet???

Fiddled with it off & on all day but call it 2 hours. For 23.5 hours total.
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Mike Barkley
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Small load of soil & about 30 more strawberries added today. Many brassica & choy seeds. A few crushed leaves for mulch. Also a handful of watermelon seeds from lunch. Have more veggie seeds for tomorrow. Still have more strawberries to move but going to wait a week or two to see which survives their transplant & to see what else sprouts. About an hour today bringing the total to 24.5 hours.
 
Mike Barkley
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In the jungle the mighty jungle the hugel lives today. (an old song ... sorta)

Yesterday the hugel had many more seeds planted & thrown on. Lettuces, kohl rabi, beets, different radishes, peas, celabrese, more choys, chia, another half pound of clover & maybe some forgotten things. Added more comfreys & a rhubarb today. Also some store bought broccoli transplants. Added a ring of leaves around the base. Another hour for 25.5 hours. I'm calling it complete. Looks like there will be a significant delay with sunchokes. The Sepp Holzer grains will be planted after this thunderstorm stops.

The pic show some things sprouting. Definitely a few beans along with probable clover & radishes.
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Why should I lose weight? They make bigger overalls. And they sure don't make overalls for tiny ads:
Switching from electric heat to a rocket mass heater reduces your carbon footprint as much as parking 7 cars
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